Thursday, January 10, 2013

« Let's Watch a Guy Watch the Oculus Rift VR Experience... Then Tactfully Talk About Its Shortcomings | Main | Users of Free Non-Mesh Phoenix Viewer Enraged at Volunteer Team for No Longer Supporting It (for Free) »

Women Play Games? Sexist Gamers Don't Think So... But Women's Magazines Are Even More Dense

Cosmo Gaming 1 text
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Flipping through a magazine a couple nights ago I had a revelation, and it's something that I haven't been able to shake since: Why don't women's magazines ever talk about games? When they do, they make it seem like it's only the boyfriends and the husbands picking up the controller. It's bad enough that many game sites are hostile towards the very idea of female gamers -- women's magazines make the problem worse by implying women shouldn't even be interested in games (unless their man is.)

It's old news that the number of male and female gamers is just about even, so why is it that men's magazines regularly add game-related content while women's mags, both online and offline, insist on living in the past? It's an outdated point-of-view that's not only alienating potential readers, but doing a lot of damage to perceptions about women in gaming. Here's what I mean:

To be clear, I'm referring primarily to what you would call "lifestyle" magazines; publications and websites that cover a pretty broad range of subjects of interest to women as opposed to ones that focus exclusively on one or two. Lifestyle magazines for women regularly talk about movies, television shows, books, music, and other major forms of media in little mini-columns peppered between the feature articles, but they almost never mention games. How long did it take many of these same magazines to talk about television shows after they became commonplace? Probably not 30 years.

If you look at men's lifestyle magazines on the other hand, video game content is absolutely abundant  -- I found dozens of examples like this great article about Grand Theft Auto IV after only a few seconds searching Esquire's website, and if you search AskMen for "gaming" you'll get nearly 33,000 results, and none of that should surprise anyone. Even Forbes, a business magazine geared towards professionals of both sexes, has game related-content on their site like this article coincidentally written by a woman.

Cosmo Gaming 2

When women's lifestyle magazines and sites do talk about gaming instead of simply acting like games don't exist, they talk about it with all the care and comfort of someone handling a leaky garbage bag. Nine times out of ten (if I'm being generous) they're only talking about games and gaming in relation to men: Get your guy's attention by letting him teach you how to play a game, give him games as a present, turn him on by talking about gaming, no seriously give him games as a present so he'll like you more -- but don't forget that eventually games will get between you and your man so beware! And these are just the online articles. There are plenty of other gems that made it into databases but not onto the web at large. Boring in bed? Try combining oral sex and World of Warcraft. Single? Try looking for a man at a trendy arcade. Want to lose weight? Go over to your boyfriend's house and play his PS3 (but don't do that because you're not going to lose weight playing PS3, that's ridiculous, don't you have a Wii yet? It's 2012.) If you're a little older with a husband and kids there's content for you from magazines like Redbook, who will help you figure out if you should allow your husbands and children to game at all. And good lord there are also so many interviews and articles about Mila Kunis, talking about how omg it's totally weird that she's into gaming and boy stuff eeeeeek!

Lili Magazine CoverThe most progressive magazine I could find was Seventeen, which didn't have a terribly bountiful or diverse range of game-related content, but what they did have rarely mentioned boyfriends or Mila Kunis. I would have been disappointed if that hadn't been the case honestly, because teen girls love gaming as much as their male counterparts, and this seems to be accepted a little more readily than the fact that my mother likes assassinating people and crashing motorcycles on her tablet, console, and PC alike. You don't just turn 18 and throw your Xbox in the trash; gamer girls grow up into gamer women, and this is not just a recent trend.

I can cite statistics in these articles until I'm blue in the face, but this time there's one in particular that I want to focus on:

Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (30 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).

Yes, the key demographic for magazines like Cosmo plays more games than adolescent boys, a market that the gaming industry bends over backwards to cater to. You can quibble and say "Well they're probably all just playing Angry Birds on their phones", but the fact remains that they are buying and playing games, and these magazines (who are struggling to maintain their relevancy as they compete with bloggers and Youtube gurus and fresh content on-tap 24/7) are completely ignoring it. That is utterly insane. Worse than ignoring it, they're perpetuating pathetically retro ideas about gender and gaming that aren't just alienating readers but harming the perception of women who game at large. It's certainly not doing much to encourage women to join the gaming industry, either. Our own magazines are pushing this tired bullshit, and still we're shocked and indignant when a game developer calls an easier skill tree in their game "girlfriend mode". He could practically be plagiarising a joke from of a back-issue of Cosmo.

Contrary to the faux-cover image I made for this post, I'm not asking for cover stories -- that's what gaming-specific magazines are for -- but there is no reason for games to not be given the exact same care and attention that books, music, tv shows, movies and similar media receive. Cater to your audience but don't talk down to them; we're well beyond playing the ultra-crappy pink-boxed "games 4 grrlz" these days: Profile wildly popular titles like The Sims 3, talk about awe-inspiring experiences like Journey (whose soundtrack is up for a Grammy), share moving stories like those in The Walking Dead and Papo & Yo, play it safe with mobile games like Lili that deliver console-quality gaming to your phone or tablet (with an adorable female grad-student protagonist as a bonus), or take risks and talk about female heroes that kick ass like Mass Effect's Shepard. There are so many options, and none of them ever have to be qualified with the word "boyfriend".

Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Women Play Games? Sexist Gamers Don't Think So... But Women's Magazines Are Even More Dense:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Pussycat Catnap

Yeah the "there are women on the internet" meme is a little old...

Did you know women outnumber men in most web production and online marketing fields... and they still think women don't know what a computer screen is...

That's not gaming, but it is technology, and shows that women are not somehow living in a different century from men.

The above all said... SL is not a gamer place. Very often you will see people say "I don't play any computer or online games" in SL - which may be why so many SLers don't think this is a game. They don't have anything to compare it to in order to see the similarities (some who do though, at least can compare and show the differences - but they are not helped by the less informed arguing with them).

But in SL, it seems both the men and the women are generally not gamers. I only find high concentrations of gamers among SL's furries - for some reason.

Brenda Archer

I'm both deep in SL and also in WoW and have been for a long time now. At least on the WoW RP servers, women seem to be about equally represented and also equally involved in running guilds. Most of the stereotypes about "no girls in WoW" come from the culture of elite PvE raiders, but that's a time consuming project that a lot of men (who have jobs and a life) don't get involved with either. It's not representative of the average (full level with good gear) WoW player.

But then again WoW is a culture where even if you're doing progression raiding your guild can be labeled "casual" because it's not in the very elite of the elite. That's kind of silly and distorts people's view of who plays WoW - in real life, every kind of person plays WoW.

I'm seeing the same "everybody plays" situation in Guild Wars 2 as well.

I stopped reading most women's magazines during my twenties when I realized they were pushing an out-of-date approach to life that didn't apply either to my tastes in entertainment or my real life relationships. To realize they're still pushing that outdated stuff now is very strange.

It's not because I'm not interested in fashion, either - SL is a great place to indulge fashion related fantasies without incurring a large cost. I just reached a point where, if I wanted fashion information, I'd read European magazines instead of American ones, just to get away from the limited right-wing view of women and relationships, and a view of fashion that was terribly pedestrian.

Pussycat Catnap

Why don't women's magazines ever talk about games?
It's bad enough that many game sites are hostile towards the very idea of female gamers.
Question and answer right there. :)

This is the same dynamic as seen with race and gaming.

"People of Color" love fantasy and science fiction. White folks have been buying scifi novels written by black folks for decades without being any the wiser about it sometimes...

But in gaming. Heck no. Too hostile.

And the same for gender. You can log into WoW and find balance in one moment, and the next see estreme examples of misogyny or racism or gay-bashing.

(And lets not let SL off the hook there, Gor anyone, or all the Dixie flags one will find in the motorcycle scene.)

There was someone doing a study of representations of women in gaming art, I think, looking to kickstarter fund herself. Instead she received absurd amounts of hatemail...

There's a certain culture in gaming, that is... peculiar... like some last holdout of the worst of the worst of good old boys. It may not be dominant, but it is very good at voicing itself. And the industry that makes games very often caters to it, or fills its developer cubicles from its ranks... Gaming developers are often clueless about the difference between a woman and a brick wall... and think 'African' is a crayon color on a good day... And as for gay:
- Unusual in where it happened, but not in what happened.

Arabella Jones

I could actualy see something such as Second Life, with its strong social media element, getting pitched through one of those magazines. Pick the right one and you could even take advantage of the sexual element.

You know, a safe place to explore wild sexual fantasies. If you want to behave as a male of a rather aggressive sort, you can do. If you want to explore some dark sexual fantasy, and be able to get away, you can.

I've seen the sex advice columns (and I have a slight regret I didn't see them when I was young), though I don't like some of the implicit political thinking in the American magazines.

But you can get the emotional overload from a relationship in SL, and getting into the game in the first place is hard. It demands a powerful computer and a good internet connection, and I am not sure that either of us are typical of the markets in the USA.

On reflection, seeing how rare the good guys are, I'm not sure that's a good idea. Still, the common images of Second Life can be fitted to the content of those magazines, both glitzy fashion and the slutty, sexual, rather dark, images that linger after the publicity boom.

Most of them, anyway. I'm not sure about the Furries.

elizabeth (16)

maybe them editors can look on youtube

tamashii got over 4.6 million views on her channel

mintchip about 3.3 millions

melonie about 3 millions

thats just 3. is heaps others as well

CronoCloud Creeggan

Yeah I've seen plenty of the "Want to make your guy happy, buy him Madden" or "Don't dat guys who play too many games" blurbs in women's magazines.

It always has seemed funny to me that SL, with it's large fashion scene, has never got even a mention in magazines like Allure, Cosmo, or Marie Claire. Maybe "we" should be submitting articles discussing SL and Fashion to such magazines.

Arcadia Codesmith

You'd expect major print periodicals to understand their audience better, but in many cases their cultural assumptions about gender (and age, race, sexual orientation, and a host of other factors) are so deeply ingrained that their demographers don't even think to ask the right questions.

By the time they catch up, print magazines might very well be extinct.

Pussycat Catnap

The problem is one of age and resistance to change.

This article is in some ways a prelude to Hamlet's article after it about people raging over Phoenix.

Old dogs, new tricks are SCARY.

Those magazines are often run by people who grew up in the 50s and 60s - Baby Boomers. Their paradigms are obsolete, and they are not willing or able to keep up anymore.

Same issue in both articles.

The ranting phoenix users, getting mad that its going away - same old dog problem.

DMom2K Darwin

What makes me laugh is how they love to discount female gamers, yet gee....who generally has the most disposable income to buy and play it is not the males. If anything they should be courting female gamers. It is the continuing trend of perceiving women not secure enough in themselves to know what they want or have to use manipulation to salve a man's ego. Such a shame because these publications are missing out by not moving along with the times. I tend to not read those publications mainly because of those type of perceptions.

I got started in gaming long before my husband and finally got him into it this year. First time out in Guild Wars 2 I ran to his rescue when he was getting slammed. Since them he has come to my rescue when I needed help. We game as equals and have a lot of fun.

Tracy Redangel

If women today followed the wretched dating advice those magazine rags offered, the human race would die out.
"playing it with him will give off an "I'm-chill-to-hang-out-with-but-would-also-make-a-kickass-GF".

Seriously, who writes that crap?

Hitomi Tiponi

it's the same with cars, bikes (unless they are pink or cute) and most technology. Women's magazines have adapted to the role of modern women but don't seem to know that they are interested in more than clothes, food, dieting and relationships.


I'm not surprised some of it's written for the demographic that isn't into gaming from the perspective of dealing with a relationship half that might be, and thus doesn't share all the same interests.

Arcadia Codesmith

"Those magazines are often run by people who grew up in the 50s and 60s - Baby Boomers. Their paradigms are obsolete, and they are not willing or able to keep up anymore."

The cure for sexism isn't ageism. Many Boomers have been fighting the good fight for decades and are not just keeping up, they're in the front of the pack.


Can't say I've bought or read a "women's" magazine since I was 16, not really because they don't mention gaming, but because lifestyle magazines don't represent the lifestyles of me or anyone I know. It's interesting seeing this examined through the lens of women gamers, but it's not just us. Does Cosmo really represent the life of any average woman? No one I know is vapid, self-obsessed, desperate, and misogynistic enough to be accurately represented by any magazine that focuses almost solely on bad TV, bad make-up tips, bad fashion tips, bad dieting tips, and absolutely disgusting relationship advice.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.